After the Chiefs’ lackluster offensive performance in the season opener against Tennessee, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, as he is wont to do, accepted all the blame and vowed to fix it.
One very long week later, the fruits of that labor paid off on Sunday, as the Chiefs’ offense made a complete 180, not only outgaining the Broncos 380 yards to 325, but also dominating time of possession (36:14 to 23:46).
“That’s what they pay me for, as they say,” Reid said. “We all have our jobs to do in this thing.
“It’s no different than you guys (the media) making your deadline. You’ve got a job to do and you’ve got to do it. And if you (stink on) one article, you want to make sure you come back and do a good job on the next one. There’s no difference in this.”
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The difference in the offensive playcalling from the Tennessee game was notable, even with star running back Jamaal Charles sidelined for the majority of the game with a sprained ankle.
For instance, the Chiefs took advantage of second-year tight end Travis Kelce by calling far more two- and three-tight endsets than they did against the Titans.
While Kelce logged only 18 offensive snaps a week before, he logged at least 31 on Sunday, catching four passes on six targets for 81 yards.
“He’s young,” Reid said. “We’ve just got to keep him coming, but he sure had some nice plays.”
Teammates say they could tell early in the week that Kelce, who caught three passes for 49 yards against the Titans, had a chance to be featured a little more against Denver.
“I knew there would be a chance to get him more involved,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “You never know for sure, but you don’t now how they are going to play certain things. There is always a little unknown heading in.”
But once the game started, it didn’t take long to see that Kelce, whose combination of size (6 feet 5, 260 pounds) and athleticism make him a tough matchup for linebackers and defensive backs. Kelce only had four catches, but all four went for first downs, and the last three all came on third down.
“He certainly is a guy that we look forward to, once we get a good matchup to take advantage of,” Smith said. “When you can get the tight ends involved, you can open up the rest of your game.”
On one of Kelce’s first-down catches, he was streaking across the middle of the field and managed to outrun strong safety T.J. Ward., who signed a four-year, $22.5 million free-agent contract this offseason.
“He’s got that, he’s got the speed, and he’s got that wiggle you look for,” Smith said of Kelce.
But involving Kelce, while the most notable change, was hardly the only difference in this week’s gameplan.
After running for a paltry 69 yards on 17 carries in week one — with 36 of those yards coming courtesy of Smith’s scrambling — the Chiefs went to their ground game early and often without Charles on Sunday, rushing 31 times for 133 yards and a respectable 4.3 yards per carry.
Part of that was their decision to lean on fullback Anthony Sherman, a reliable run blocker, a little more this week. After Sherman logged only six snaps the week before, the Chiefs ran “21” personnel — two backs and one tight end — at least 14 times on Sunday, and received a stronger overall effort upfront from a makeshift offensive line that now features only two players who opened training camp as starters.
“The big thing was just staying consistent with it all game,” Smith said of the running game. “That’s what it takes sometimes. The first half, it can be tough sledding, and I think staying with it, in the second half you saw us rip off some bigger chunks.”
Still, good things happen when you get your best players on the field. And Smith said the Chiefs’ increased usage of “12” personnel — one back and two tight ends, including Kelce — also played a big role in opening some running lanes.
“With those tight ends, you have balance there,” Smith said. “You can run and pass and put the defense in some tough situations. They went small a couple times there late with Kelce on the field and we were able to really run the ball.”
For his part, Smith — who completed 26 of 42 passes for 255 yards — certainly seemed more comfortable than he did a week ago. Some of that has to do with players around him stepping up, particularly at receiver and offensive line.
But some of that also had to do with a solid bounce-back game for the Chiefs’ head coach, whose solid reputation as a playcaller wasn’t built by allowing the same playcalling problems to fester on a week-to-week basis.
“If you stink it up, you want to come back, you want to do better, then you want to be consistently better each week,” Reid said. “That’s what we all strive to do.”